We Band of Brothers

Six hundred years ago this weekend, a wet and battered English army was fleeing France. King Henry V of England had invaded, hoping to press a claim to the French throne — a weak claim that was made stronger by the French king’s being insane: Charles VI believed, at times, that he was made of glass, and lived in deathly fear that someone would break him. Henry believed this made it a good time to undo England’s failure to capture France during during act 1 of the Hundred Years’ War.

  • Xavier

    Agincourt was the source of my interest in making traditional longbows.

    • You make longbows? Cool.

    • Half Judean (Destroyer-Drone)

      Hah, used to do archery, but never tried the longbow out sadly.

  • Interesting. Let’s hope the British today will be as strong and successful when they get to fight the Muslims in their midst. So far, they have seemed pretty timid.

  • simus1

    Henry’s chosen battlefield and the weather were ideal for a smaller English force defending against a far larger much better equipped but disorganized French onslaught. A very plausible theory to explain the French nobles motives in refusing to follow their own approved very sensible battle plan involves the lure of ransom to be had by individually capturing the English nobility present.

  • ed

    the ” V” finger sign [ fu*k off ] came from the English long bowmen as it was their two string bow fingers [captured archers had them chopped off ] ed uk

    • dance…dancetotheradio

      Not many people know that.

  • Mannie

    Probably the best military exhortation speech never given.

  • Half Judean (Destroyer-Drone)

    The article does a good job explaining the jamming of French troops rushing through thick, muddy terrain to a certain death, and the willingness of the archers to fight at close quarters. But the refusal of the nobles to execute the prisoners at the rear had hardly anything to do with some kind of mercy emanating from the code of chivalry. Prisoners of good blood had value, and ransoming high-ranking prisoners constituted an essential part of the booty in late medieval warfare.

    But I essentially take issue with the following:

    Soon, the French would sign a surrender; Henry V would take control of France, marry King Charles’s daughter, and unite the French and English monarchies.

    ‘Soon’ meant 2 to 4 years. Agincourt only allowed Henry to sail back to England and prepare another offensive. This was achieved from 1417 to 1420 as he landed in Normandy relatively unopposed (he even ‘pardonned’ the local nobility that swore allegiance to the French on an individual basis), marching on Rouen (besieged and starved by 1419) and Paris before the Treaty of Troyes was proclamed in 1420.

    Those campaigns took years to undertake. And the Bourguignon-Armagnac split was a godsend to Henry V. Had it not been for the inner squabblings of the French, his campaign might have lasted four more years.

    The quickest campaign of the whole war is undoubtedly Charles VII’s retaking of Normandy (thanks to the extensive use of artillery and early professional troops) which lasted a whole year from 1449 to 1450.

    And in spite of being called a killjoy. Shakespeare’s play is billiant & praiseworthy, but I don’t exactly understand how something written in 1599 is relevant to an event that occured 184 years beforehand. Considering Shakespeare’s reliance on other poems and plays as well as a few chroniclers, his play amounts to dramatisation first and foremost.

    The Hundred Years’ War is a vast and complex topic which rolls 2-3 wars into one. And while it was extremely deadly, the Black Plague turned out to be the real killer of the period.

    Henry V himself was quite unlucky since he died from dysentry at Vincennes a year after the Treaty of Troyes. Leaving his regents to carry out the troubled succession of a fragile dual-monarchy while his son, Henry VI, grew up to be more priest than king.

    Maintaining a dual-monarchy in the 15th century would have proved to be a mammoth task as the long-dormant English identity had been linguistically and culturally revived under the Lancastrian family (The Treaty of Troyes was the first treaty of the late medieval period to be conducted in English as well as Oïl French), and the then-nonexistent French identity was seriously starting to kick in with Armagnac propaganda moves like Joan of Arc’s holy mission.

    Had Edward III and the Plantagenets managed to inflict a ‘swift’ victory on the Valois right at the beginning of the conflict. Then a dual-monarchy might have been more plausible, but at what cost? England only had around 4 million people, the Kingdom of France had three times that number (~13,000,000).
    English would have remained the illiterate peasant vernacular language it was reduced to since William the Conqueror took the throne. England would have been further frenchified, by a distinct and diverse kind of French (Anglo-Norman oïl dialect) perhaps, but that would have been frenchification nevertheless.

    Victory during the 100 Yrs War was poisonous. As the victors often found themselves in indescribably complicated situations. If you look at it through English lenses, then the loss of those French possessions wasn’t that awful when considering the outcome referred to above.

    • That’s interesting. I know very little about this. Can you recommend a book?

      • Half Judean (Destroyer-Drone)

        The 100 Yrs War is a pretty interesting subject and I read quite a bit about it. Plenty of insane things occured back in those days. My personal favourite is the 1424 siege of Verneuil, where the Scots took the city for the French after wrapping themselves up in English garments drenched in blood and pretended to be survivors of Bedford’s (allegedly) defeated army. In spite of the bad Scottish accent, they let them through! The English managed to swiftly recapture the city as Bedford was actually nearby with over 8,000 men.

        Although nobody could have realistically lived long enough to witness the whole war. There are plenty of chroniclers to read from, Jean Froissart is the most well-known of these.

        If you can read French, “La Guerre de Cent Ans” by Georges Minois is a must. Otherwise, “Conquest: The English Kingdom of France in the Hundred Years War” by Juliet Barker is quite a good book (but I never finished it myself), that one is a sequel of “Agincourt: The King, the Campaign” and they only focus on the latter part [the remaining 30-40 yrs] of the conflict.

        • These odd events are interesting, aren’t they? All the weird little details. After reading the post I looked up Charles vi:

          But no, I don’t read French 🙁

          • Half Judean (Destroyer-Drone)

            Ahh, the Bal des Ardents is a pretty famous episode. Charles VI “Le Fol” actually lived through a period of relative truce before going completely bonkers.

            Take a look at Barker’s books methinks, they’re quite good.

  • Frances

    We went to the movie after hearing good reviews. Just before the battle, before Henry begins to rally the troops, these came a whisper from my side: “Who won?”.